For those who travel to the Cook Islands, the first stop is Rarotonga, the country’s most populated and popular island. From there, visitors can do a bit more island hopping, especially among the southern islands, though it is possible to venture up north as well. In any case, if people do make it off of Rarotonga, chances are they venture over to Aitutaki, which is known for the fact that it actually consists of several smaller islands, including the one on which Survivor: Cook Islands was filmed.
As is the case throughout the Cook Islands, the people on Aitutaki are ridiculously welcoming and happy, willing and excited to sweep you into their lives so that you feel like you’ve always lived there. On one side of the island there is a large flat rock known as Visitor’s Rock. The old tradition is that, when you step on it as you arrive, you are welcomed into the village, and when you step on it as you are leaving, you leave everything behind. People leave their doors unlocked and open here, and as you walk or drive down the road, everyone waves and says hi … after all, everyone knows everyone else. And one other thing of note: There are no dogs allowed on Aitutaki nor have there been since the early 1900s. It’s the only island in the Cooks with a ban on canines.
True exploration of Aitutaki doesn’t begin until you leave the main island and take advantage of a boat ride out into the surrounding waters. A number of tour companies offer excursions, which hop from outcropping to outcropping, stopping along the way for snorkeling and swimming. The water is turquoise … which blends into the white sand … which blends into the horizon … and before you know it, you’re surrounded by a scene only found on a postcard.
My trip to the Cook Islands was paid for by the Cook Islands Tourism Board, but all opinions are my own.